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Confident Charlie Strong feeling no pressure ahead of Texas debut

What pressure?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In the fishbowl that is Texas Longhorns football, being the head coach can pack enough pressure it feels like being 20,000 leagues under the sea.

Just look at how quickly former head coach Mack Brown aged.

And the Eyes of Texas constantly tracking each and every movement can be enough to turn a head coach's ears red.

Just look at how former head coach Mack Brown's ears burned crimson in so many press conferences after getting burned by the crimson and cream.

But on Monday, just days ahead of new head coach Charlie Strong's debut in front of 100,000 strong at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday, there was no evidence of Strong feeling that pressure.

Instead, Strong peppered his exactly 300-word opening statement with five the word "excitement." Five times, in fact.

He's excited about the game, his first in his burnt orange Texas polo, which will assuredly be buttoned to the top as it was on Monday, just like he prefers it.

He's excited about his football team and how it will play.

He's excited for his seniors, who haven't slowed his transition with resentment.

He's excited about the leadership from his seniors after extensively questioning said leadership during fall camp.

He's excited because the players are excited for the first game.

He's also extremely comfortable in his own skin in front of the media despite extensive speculation to the contrary when he was hired.

And asked whether he feels any pressure ahead of the season opener, Strong was quick to sincerely deny it.

"No, I've been doing this a long time," Strong said. "I feel no pressure at all. You know what happens when you prepare and when you have pressure placed on you, when you have a prepared football team? You place them out there, and you let them go to work, your work will speak. I tell them, 'Hey, your work is going to speak for yourselves by how well you go out and go play,' but I don't feel any pressure."

When a reporter laughed at his last comment, a big smile creased Strong's face, a face still so unlined at 54 it puts the truth to his previous statement.

"You liked that, didn't you?" Strong cracked.

His humor was also self deprecating.

When discussing the emotions involved in running out of the tunnel for the first time, Strong noted the need for perspective, for not completely getting caught up in the moment, which will be a historic one as the first African-American head football coach at Texas.

"It's going to be fun and exciting, but still, I have to take a step back, too, and just realize we need to go win this football game. We've got to go play well, too, or I may not be enjoying that moment for very long."

There's not much that's overly amusing about the intense pressure and scrutiny on the 40 Acres, but Strong punctuated his comment with a rich, deep-throated chuckle.

The confidence is the result of dedication, all the hard work that he and his staff had put in during the last nine months, all the talk about toughness on the field and off the field, all the grinding on the team and all the public challenges.

The result of building the mindset that it takes to win games, an intensive process that will continue throughout the season, even as all the offseason work will culminate in the progress snap shot that is the opener against North Texas.

"It's something that has to be just talked about over and over," said Strong of the needed mindset. "Some days they don't want to go out and practice hard, okay, they just lost a football game. But with the mindset we've got to go compete each and every day and it starts at practice and continues not only at practice but in the meeting rooms, just how you go approach the meeting, how your focus is in the meeting room, are you willing to learn? If you're willing to learn and then you can take the learning from the classroom to the practice field, then you have a chance to go out and compete."

As evidenced by Strong's dedication to his early morning runs, weightlifting sessions with the players, and hands-on coaching style, the Texas head man practices what he preaches and the result in his own confidence was readily apparent on Monday as he talked about a process that he personally owns every day.

"The mindset with winning is, now all of a sudden you're sitting there, when you feel confident and you have confidence within yourself, then the winning is going to take care of itself."

The attitude deeply permeates the way that Strong deals with his players.

"I tell our guys all the time we don't need to disrespect players, we don't need to talk down to them, let's just build them up and make them feel good, so that when it's time for them to do anything, whether it be in a classroom on the field, off the field, wherever it may be, they have enough confidence and enough belief in themselves that they can go get it done."

Of course, Strong couldn't get through the entire press conference without returning to talking about his level of excitement.

"There's going to be a lot of emotion on Saturday, I know that. Just running through the tunnel is going to be something special. But it's just the excitement, and I'm just so excited seeing the team. I want to watch this football team go play, and I think they're tired of hitting one another and they're ready to hit someone else, and I think that's what's going to be exciting for me."

Charlie Strong's excited about Texas Longhorns football and if his team has inculcated his own mindset that leads to the easy confidence Strong displayed on Monday, Horns fans might just have something to be excited about again, too, for the first time in nearly five long years.